The Rouergue/Aveyron has a long history as an extremely poor hinterland. Its origins are usually traced to the Rutènes, a Celtic people who had established control over much of modern-day Aveyron by the time of their first contact with the Romans in 121 B.C. (Natives of the capital city of Rodez are still referred to as "Rutenois.") Conquered by Caesar's armies in 52 B.C. , the area was part of the Gallo-Roman province of Aquitain for the next five centuries, becoming Christianized near the end of this period. Two constants emerge from the subsequent millennium and a half of Rouergat history. First, from the Gallo-Roman era to the modern French Republics, the Rouergue/Aveyron has been a distant and Generally neglected possession of a succession of regimes: Visigoth, Merovingian, Carolingian, Count of Toulouse, and the kings of France. It has been profoundly marked in myriad ways by the Roman, Toulousan, and French civilizations of which it has been a part, but it has been equally marked by its peripheral status to all of these. Second, the Catholic church has been a constantly powerful force shaping Rouergat history and identity. The counts of Rouergue (first established under Charlemagne) were in chronic conflict with the bishops of Rodez, before and after both became direct vassals of the king of France in 1270. During the twelfth century, much of the Rouergat wilderness was cleared and many agricultural innovations were introduced by the great Cistercian abbeys established in the area. The Rouergue remained a calm Roman Catholic island in the storms raging around the Albigeois heresies just to its southwest and, later, those just to its east around the Reformation. Much later, the French Revolution went relatively unfelt in the Aveyron, until the requirement that priests swear their allegiance to the new constitution prompted popular counterrevolutionary uprisings (1791). During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the Aveyron has remained a poor and relatively isolated backwater, marked by devout Catholicism and political conservatism, as well as by selective or belated participation in many modern French institutions. By such measures as infant mortality and illiteracy rates, nineteenth-century Aveyron chronically lagged behind French averages. The great French railroad lines built during the nineteenth century, like the royal water-ways and highways of the Ancien Régime and the auto routes of the twentieth century, bypassed the Aveyron. For much of the modern period, the Aveyronnais have been infamous among French administrators for their skills at draft dodging, tax evasion, and manipulation of state agents, as well as their astute use of state institutions (e.g., the judicial apparatus) to settle local scores. During the twentieth century, the Aveyron has served as a labor pool for urban France (especially Paris). Although remaining a rural, agricultural area in postIndustrial France, the Aveyron has largely caught up with French averages in most measures of standards of living, particularly since the 1950s. Habits of using, abusing, and ignoring the institutions emanating from distant centers of state power remain strong.
There exists a well-recognized Aveyronnais/Rouergat stereotype in France, largely internalized by Aveyronnais themselves but perfectly consistent with their unambiguously French identity. Aveyronnais are taken to be hard-working, tight-fisted, devoutly Catholic and politically conservative, fiercely loyal to their homeland, neither as ebullient as Southerners (from the Midi) nor as reserved as northerners. Their strongest image in the national imagination is as the archetypical provincial in Paris, tending café or working behind the window at the post office.